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Tackling Lack Of Interest In Stem Subjects

Last update: 09/08/2017
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By Ainul Huda Mohamed Saaid

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- It is estimated that Malaysia has to produce at least 5,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates annually to realise the 2050 aspiration (TN50), where Malaysia will emerge as among the top 20 countries of the world in economic, social development and innovation spheres.

However, there are some who doubt that country will be able to produce sufficient number of STEM graduates due to a number of reasons.

Firstly, interest for STEM subjects among school students is on the decline and this has affected the university enrolment in these fields, particularly in the pure science field. This had been pointed out to the media by National STEM Movement chairman Professor Datuk Dr Noraini Idris.

Noraini said this during the launching of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia's N9 STEM@Nilai, and Cluster Schools and Adopted Schools Carnival in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan recently.

Moreover, current employment patterns do not indicate a strong demand for STEM graduates as indicated by the Graduates Tracer Study conducted by the Higher Education Ministry in 2015.

The study indicated 27.7 per cent of the Science graduates being unemployed compared with 26.7 per cent of Arts and Social Science graduates.


Professor Emerita Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman, the country's first astrophysicist and the one who helped lay the groundwork for astronomy and space studies in the country, thus urges the government to create an ecosystem that will support the STEM's graduates.

"The government must be consistent about this. If you encourage people to do STEM, but you don't encourage the development of the industry that provides them jobs then it would be pointless," she said during the Powering the Future discussion by Exxon Mobile recently.

In order to achieve this, Mazlan suggests the government upgrades more SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to a level that they can create jobs to the graduates, as well as to develop more scientific institutions.

The Director of MegaScience 3.0 project also points out that more parents will encourage their children to take up STEM if they could see a clear career path for their children.


However, it is also important for STEM students to enhance their potential by mastering other skills, including soft skills to get them better prepared for the future.

The future, according to Mazlan, will see several trends that is already emerging in small scale today.

It is predicted there will no longer be more long working hours, instead it will be normal for a person to have three to five jobs at the same time.

"For instance in the Scandinavian countries they are already experimenting with 30 hours work per week with no decrease in salary or productivity.

"And if you are going to have several jobs, it is good to have variety of skills or fields mastered," she said.

Another scenario is that in the future they will be a group of people who will be classified as the 'useless class'.

"These are people who cannot re-skill themselves. They cannot learn new skills. For goodness sake we hope we will never be in this class because the next thing that is surely to come is the artificial intelligence (AI)," said the former National Planetarium's director.

AI will replace human in many occupations including doctors, scientists, movie directors and teachers.


Professor Yang Farina Abdul Aziz of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) believes that teachers play a crucial role in boosting the interest in science among students.

Yang Farina, who is leading the National Science Challenge (NSC) Steering Committee, has seen how teachers from non high performance schools coached and motivated their students in the NSC until they reached the top five.

"Usually, more or less, every year you will see the same schools namely the high performance schools among the five finalists.

"However, what we are seeing over the years is that we are getting more and more schools that we have never heard before into the finals and why is this happening?

"Because of these dedicated teachers who are brave enough to put together a team, coach them and bring them to the programme," cited the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Inorganic Chemistry professor.

Teachers, she says, should have passion and should be able to see the bigger picture.

"It is not about the person who is sitting in front of you now, it is about the person who she or he is going to become 20 years from now," she added.

Besides having passionate teachers to inspire the students, Yang Farhana stresses on the importance of methodology in teaching STEM.

"Like conducting simple science experiment, can make an impact and create interest in students.

"Students get interested with things that they can see, and when they are interested they will start asking questions," she explained.

ASM is continuously searching and studying ways of enhancing STEM teaching methods and is planning to set up a centre for the continual professional development of the STEM teachers.

"So hopefully we are not only focusing on talents, but we are also working on teachers who are actually nurturing these STEM talents," concludes Yang Farhana.